School heads discuss choosing a school

We interviewed leaders of several private and independent schools to garner their advice and insights on choosing the right school.

Below find highlights from the discussion. You can also watch our video (and read our curated transcript) of school heads on the topic of red flags to look out for when choosing a school.

Other resources you may find helpful include: Our Kids step-by-step guide, experts, parents on choosing a school, pathways to finding the right school 

Highlights from the discussion

You want to do your due diligence in terms of checking the credentials of their staff, making sure that everyone is qualified and well qualified. You'd want to look at graduation rates. You want to speak with current students. So when we do our virtual open houses, we always have current students and current parents on to give their perspective and to answer questions. And when we do tours and when families come, we have current students involved in that process as well. Again, to answer questions to provide families a sense of what the school is like.” 
—Mark Musca, Head of School, Albert College 

“I think that you need to make phone calls. You need to really investigate those schools, talk to the principal, talk to the teachers, ask for references, ask to hear from other parents about their experiences.” 
—Susan Goode, Principal, Glenoak Academy 

“It's really about a relationship. It's not just about books. It's not just about knowledge. You're really looking for an opportunity to have your son come to a place that becomes a home away from home.” 
—Terry Sheridan, Head of School, Northmount School 

“I would check out the Our Kids website. That's obviously the number one place to go. I would go to the expo in October. And then once you learn more about the schools, you start to narrow down your search. I think it's important to not only go to open houses, but even more important to book time with the admissions counsellor, even the principal, and get to meet people and see their vision of the school. And see what it's like at a tour. Even better would be to have their child stay at the school for a day or two and see if they like it because, in the end, that's what's most important. See if it's a good fit for them if they like it socially and academically.” 
—Phil Davies, Secondary Principal, Bond Academy 

“I would advise parents to take a hard look at what the school you're considering has as its strategic priorities and then judge the school against those strategic priorities. If it's stated as such, let me see the evidence that it's actually there.” 
—Karen Jurjevich, Principal, Branksome Hall 

“I think ‘what do you want? What are you looking for?’ And that's a hard thing because very often people don't realize they do want something. ...  But to find a school where you can bring a child or send a child on a daily basis and you can be away doing whatever you're doing, you don't even worry.” 
—Grace Kidney, Co-Owner, Clanmore Montessori School 

“Really look at a school's mission and there's lots of catch phrases and there's slogans, but look at their real mission. And if they're living it.” 
—Shawn O’Donnell, Head of School, The Sacred Heart School 

“When we talk about fit at a school, it's really all about the culture of the school and the type of personality of a student. So that there's not one type of student that fits at Stanstead College … . So it is a rural environment and a small size. Is that atmosphere the right fit for your kids? Do they want to be involved in a lot of different things? Do they need to be sort of pushed out of their comfort zone? Those are things to ask yourself. And I think investigating beyond that. It's very easy online to see a lot of things about a school, but you need to get personal.” 
—Joanne Carruther, Associate Head of School, Stanstead College 

“You know, go with your gut and really explore all your options and you'll know that it's right. And I really do give the advice of picking a school for your child now. So don't look at high school years right now. But what's going to be best suited for your child right now?” 
—Teralee Brunn, Principal, Sunnybrook School 

“Think about how you would buy a home. So you would make a priority list with you and your spouse, a partner, and say, okay, give yourself your number one priority, maybe make a list of ten things, and then you try to stick to that list. Create that list of ten and then interview the schools. Meet people like myself. We'll make available parents for you to talk to, teachers to talk to.” 
—Jeff Bavinngton, Co-Founder, Hudson College 

“Engage your children. Create a checklist, do some visits, and then listen to your gut. 
—Stuart Grainger, Head of School, Trinity College School 

“Trust your instinct. And certainly, a sense of fit is important. Ask a lot of critical questions. Visualize yourself in the school.” 
—Sandy Palombo, Head of School, Delano Academy 

Having the child visit for the day so that he or she can actually earn an appreciation or understanding for the school culture and the climate of the school. What are the teachers like? And what will their peer group be like moving forward? Should they join the school?”
—Janice Gruchy, Director, Academy for Gifted Children P.A.C.E. 

“Understanding the vision and mission of that school. Understanding how teachers approach the teaching and learning and really connect with the student in terms of helping that student develop their communication skills, develop their critical thinking skills. And develop the sense of personal and social responsibility.” 
—Paul Cohee, Principal, LaSalle College Vancouver High School 

“Stability is a very important thing for kids in their younger years. So find a school that you really feel comfortable with. So go into a school, go to a school that will actually let you come in for a trial day or a trial week. We've let people sometimes come for two or three weeks to classes to figure out for next year this is where they want to be. If they're still not sure, keep coming back until you either know yes or no. Get a list of references from the head of school, from the admissions department, from families.” 
—Aaron Sawatsky, Head of School, The Maples Academy 

Always tell parents it's not just about you selecting a school that you feel is best for your child, but it's also making sure that the child is happy. And they love going to the school they want to be at. They enjoy every aspect of the classroom and their classmates and their teachers. Those are the things that you also want to consider. It’s that child’s well-being.” 
—Shetal Patel, Vice Principal, Kendellhurst Academy 

“You have to know, going in, what you're looking for. Get a few criteria—that I want a school that's going to do X, Y, and Z for my child. They're going to do X, Y, and Z for me. And the whole package will be my way of evaluating which one's going to do the best job for me. If you just go in and look at different schools randomly, haphazardly, you're not going to have the same end result and you might miss the things. So really think it through. What do I want in a school? What am I hoping to gain? And also, what does my kid want in school?” 
—Fred Home, Principal, WillowWood School 

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